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Absolution

Part 4

By: Morrig AKA Piti-pup

The ride back set her nerves on end, the radio going back and forth from static to clear signal. She had avoided the blue eyes in the morning, intent on leaving with a different image of the dark woman alone. She kept the scent of her close by, a stolen sweater bathed in the scent of musk forever present on bronze skin, laid out on the passenger seat. A state trooper raced by her, and unwittingly she stared into the backseat, a lump in her throat. Zee said two days, that could mean tomorrow, or the day after or, what time was that guy over there? It would be all over the news within minutes, and Zee had asked her not to watch. "When you hear the story, turn the TV off okay? Don’t look at the pictures in the paper, you won’t like what you see." Over the Tappan Zee Bridge, and into the polluted Bronx she kept the lingering taste of a kiss on her lips, printed it to memory. She’ll be acquitted, she has to be. Oh God let her be.

Casey stopped at a gas station, dialed a number she knew would be answered by a sleepy Jesse returning from work. "Hey, I’m back."

"Huh? What happened you’re not suppose to be here yet." Jesse yawned into the phone.

"Yeah I know. She’s turning herself in Jesse, I needed to be back before she is. She doesn’t want me involved." There was a shuffling in the background, the sound of a television set coming to life. "I’ll park the car for you down the street, and leave the keys in your mail box Jesse. I know you need your sleep." The phone clanged against the floor and Casey pulled her ear away, heard Jesse swear, scrambling for the phone.

"Hey, sorry about that, damn slippery phone. Uhmm, sure. Hey, why don’t you meet me tomorrow at the park, we can talk then if you’d like?" A high pitched squeal came through the phone, and Casey smiled. "You have company huh? I’ll see you tomorrow night then."

Her apartment was stuffy, the heat having finally been turned on, she flipped the switch to the TV. "Today in the news Spokesman Patrick Fairley of the Benevolent Police Association spoke in outrage at the delay of the Ryan investigation…" She flipped the channel, finding cartoons familiar to her childhood, and she sat on the edge of the bed, watching the screen in total abandon. Characters ran across cliffs, smashing into walls, and falling down holes to bounce back up unscathed. What am I going to do with all this time off? Magali’s blue sweater lay over her duffel bag, gingerly she picked it up and pulled it over her. Maybe a walk will do me some good, Central Park isn’t that far. It would be a welcome sight, the trees and open plains of grass in the middle of the concrete jungle. It was as close to Magali as she could get. The decision made, Casey picked up an old denim jacket and strolled out the door, down four flights of stairs, and into the cold November air.

"Shut up!" By the time she had evaluated what was going on she had been dragged into the backseat of a blue Capri. Two men, one at either side leered at her, the driver, a white faced stick of a man smiled.

"Good afternoon Ms.Bridges, I see you’ve returned in one piece from your little trip." His voice was low and gravelly, and brown square shades covered his eyes.

"Who are you?" She said unblinkingly.

""My name is Detective Webster, I’ve been assigned to the Ryan case. And I’ve been turning this fuckin’ town upside down looking for Magali Guerrero, your darling Zero, fucking Zee whatever you people call her." There was a certain menace to his voice when he said her name.

Struggling against the hands that held her fast, she spoke through clenched teeth. "I don’t know where she is, and besides you can stop looking. She’ll be turning herself in."

"Oh we know." A bony hand, speckled with liver spots lifted a small tape recorder from the front seat. One finger coiled pressing down the play button, and two familiar voices broke through the tiny speaker. Shit, it’s my phone call to Jesse. "You see, we can’t allow her to turn herself in for questioning Ms. Bridges. It won’t look…good. So…why don’t you tell us where she’s at, and when she’s charged…I’ll forget I ever heard this." He waggled the tape recorder just out of her reach.

"I want to see my lawyer." Webster smiled.

"Get rid of this little slut of Guerrero’s," he growled.

Her neck cramped at the position of her head, hair being pulled back, gripped by a callous hand. She fell forward, tumbling out of the slowly moving car and onto the middle of the street. "Umph." The blue Capri sped away, leaving a trail of twisting papers in its wake. Amidst scattered shards of glass, Casey picked herself up rubbing her arm, squinted at the plate that moved quickly through traffic and disappeared. Her shoulder hurt from where she had fallen, and the grime of the street smudged darkly on an elbow. Of the people walking by, not a face turned her way, not a hand in help. Who would believe this? Shaken, she walked the few blocks back into her building, sullen. Slamming the door behind her she took trembling steps up four flights of stairs.

A blanket of darkness covered the city, millions of lights blinked like watching eyes across the water of the Hudson River. The panoramic view of the bridge and its back drop familiar to everyone in the world, the gateway to the city. Magali picked up the discarded cellular and dialed Eddies number, the words she would use, rehearsed for efficiency. "Yeah?" Eddie’s best description was one of a person eternally tired, but it was a welcome sound. "Meet me at my place in ten minutes, and hurry, you know it won’t take them long." She disconnected the call, pressed the phone into a side pocket of the laptop bag near her feet, and accelerated her speed. The clock was ticking away the second she paid the toll to cross the bridge. Devi sat quietly looking out the window, her sensitivity to tense moments such as these acute. The avenue was eerily silent, streetlights dim through trees growing from the asphalt cast figures on the sidewalk. Magali didn’t bother to park the Jeep in the garage, better not to be trapped. Instead she double parked it in front of the building’s entrance, picked up her bags and sprinted in, Devi at her heels.

She keyed the door to the apartment, hand behind her back, steady on the handle of the .45. A book fell and she almost shot off, peeling the gun from its sheath in one fluid motion. Devi cleared the door, jumping over strewn books and toppled shelves. The place was the victim of a tornado, furniture shredded and it’s stuffing thrown about, the broken figure of the patron Saint propped against a corner. I figured they’d make a fuckin’ mess. She went to her kitchen window, gave a whistle, a light turned on in a window across the alley. A shaven head poked out into the darkness, and Magali tossed the .45 to the open window. "Hold this for me would ya?" The hairless head nodded agreement. Leaving her bags on the floor, she took out a cigarette, and ran into her bedroom lighting it. Quickly she stripped off her clothes, and donned a pair of black jeans, a tight black mock neck, and her Harley boots. She threw her shoulder holster in the back of the closet, and pulled out a long black leather trench coat. This will keep some of the sticks away, or those stupid stun guns won’t burn at least…shit.

In the bathroom she doused her face with cold water, and gazed for one long moment into her own eyes, seeing there the reflection of her brother’s stare lying on the tar covered roof. Devi whined at her feet, pawed her boot. "We’re almost done girl. Now lets beep Jesse huh, she’ll take care of you." She dialed the numbers, an ache starting to build in the pit of her stomach as soon as she hung up. "She’ll be here in a few Devi, let’s go wait outside huh. Safer in public." On her way out she genuflected before the shattered statuette, brushed some of the dust from its face, and felt the void of the missing weapon stinging against her side.

The ambulance was warm and Jesse sipped at her coffee, cuddling the Styrofoam cup with both hands. Casey had been waiting at the park, shivering against the black gate nearest the street. She had spoken without taking a breath about her encounter with Webster the day prior, and Jesse drank it in without so much as a blink. "Shit, that’s really fucked up Casey."

She opened her mouth to speak twice without producing any words. Then in one push let out her worse fear, "they’re going to kill her aren’t they Jesse?"

Jesse fixed her gaze on the street, jumping when a vibration at her waist and a call through the radio went off simultaneously. Casey stared at the blinking red light, her breath caught, just a test of the system, she let out a sigh of relief.

Storm clouds gathered angrily over head, a far off clap of thunder rolled over the rooftops. Frost formed from her breath, a smoky fog emanating from her lips. Magali shivered and hid her face in the collar of her trench coat, lit her second cigarette and held the smoke in before exhaling it into the blowing wind. She saw them from the corner of her eye, the ambulance slowly approached, the shadows moved. Fuck… too late Jesse. A dark silhouette rose from behind a low pickup across the street, everything slowed, her breathing a roar in her ears. The headlights came closer, two small specks in the distance. Another man walked down the street with long strides, his hands reaching behind his back. Damn, I just had to stick my hands in my pockets didn’t I? The lights grew wider. She clenched her fists hidden in her trench, nails digging into the skin of her palms. Timor mortis conturbat me, the fear of death disturbs me. Her arms were numb, from her shoulders to her wrists, she knew but did not feel them stretch above her head. A simple sign of surrender. The bitter wind raged against her hands, a few drops christening them in the air. A brown mass leapt, a growl full of fury targeted the man walking towards her. "Devi no!"

Clack! Muscled haunches that had propelled the dog through the air curled at the impact of hot lead. Magali was flung backwards, a shock tearing through her chest, ripping through her. Warmth spilled, damp and thick, it ran a course down her abdomen, she planted her feet to the ground. Fuck. Haze covered her sight with a thin film, she could see the bounce of the red-brown head as Devi hit the ground in a heap. Clack! A force spun her, the ground came closer, her world became the searing heat near her temple, a creep of moisture down her neck.

The gunshots echoed, vibrating the air, shaking the night awake. Jesse saw the sparks, felt a chill run through her, hit the base of her spine and spread. Casey’s shrill scream reverberated in the cab of the vehicle, and ended in a deep sob, "No." The heavens broke open releasing torrents onto the city streets. It spattered on cars, lashed at windows, driven by gusts in all directions. The rain drenched her through, golden locks sticking to her face as she ran. A river of blood and water stained the ground, filled the cracks and ran into the street, spilt red wine. Casey fell to her knees, lifting the dark head that hung limply, a stream of warmth running down her hands and onto her lap. Blood pooled under her and the black figure laying on the cold concrete. Blue eyes glared at the dark sky, trapped her in their gaze, a slight movement of paling lips. "Per…dona me." The howling wind drowned the words, carried them away with their owner. The ground under her swayed, a cold stillness engulfed her, black.

A primitive sound rolled from Casey’s lips, guttural, and agonized she threw her grief to the heavens. She heard the tell tale sound of a handcuff, watched numbly as the police officer fastened one of Magali’s wrists, and smiled at his partner. A dark hand pushed him away, "get away from her," Jesse yelled, her voice distant in Casey’s hearing. Pounding steps came to a halt behind them, Eddie’s breathing harsh and pronounced. "Shit, shit," he took in the scene, freezing rain dripping off his face, Magali’s blood running past his feet. A brown huddled form caught his attention, a red stain darkening the fur of the shrunken animal a few feet away. "Devi."

Careful fingers prodded Casey’s hands away from the sanguine head. Two fingers searched at a stained neck desperately, and waited an eternity "There’s a pulse, weak, but it’s there." Holy virgin let it be there.

Take off my shield

Carry my sword

I won’t need it anymore

Find me a sky, and give me my wings

Frozen and broken but free

And tell them I’m alright, I’m coming home

Tell them I’m alright, I am alone

This war is over, I’m coming home

Take off my shame, bury it low

I won’t need it any more

Find me the sun, and give me it whole

Melt all the chains in my soul

The commotion of the vehicle and the piercing scream woke Michael up. He held on to the sides of the gurney, expecting all hell to break loose, the absence of the sirens confused him. He rubbed his face and neck with chilled hands, the only problem with sleeping in the service area of the ambulance was its lack of warmth. He turned the metallic handle on the door, and stepped out into lashing rain. What he saw stopped him in his tracks. His partner for the night, and drinking buddy, was stooped over a black clad figure lying on the ground, searching for a pulse. Concrete stained crimson, an animal and a woman down, a handcuff hanging from a limp wrist completed the picture. What the hell? Kneeling in the bloody mess a slender red head he recognized held on to the body, a broad figure stood behind her. Two suited men, one with his hands on his thin hips, the other talking on a handheld radio, observed the scene at a short distance. Coming to his senses he pulled the double doors of the vehicle open, banging from the force. Single handedly, using the rush of the moment, he yanked at the gurney, its wheels hit the street. Rain soaked his light brown crewcut, darkening the blue jacket he wore, streaming down his pale face. His approach was noisy, but none of the participants moved, he understood once he got a good look at the injured woman’s face.

"Christ Jesse, isn’t that your…"

"Help me get her on the stretcher Mike!" Jesse pulled on the latches that brought the gurney down to ground level. Michael moved behind the red head, pushing her aside he locked his arms under Magali’s shoulders. The wet white sheets turned colors, black in the street light, as they made their way back to the waiting ambulance. "Jesse you drive, I’ll take care of her. Go!" She did as she was told, Casey close behind her, jumping into the cab of the vehicle. The panel separating the service area from the cab opened, and green eyes peeked through, he could hear the slow raspy breathing of the unconscious woman. He grabbed at the doors to shut them, a hand holding a badge interrupted, followed by a barked command. "I’m coming with you." Dark suit, short hair, and radio in hand, the man took the seat next to him.

"Fine, just stay out of my way," he barked back.

Michael did not waste time arguing, evaluated the extent of injuries and called them out to be radioed ahead. "Got a chest wound here! Head wound too, doesn’t look like the skull was penetrated though! Blood pressure 105 over 70, and dropping. Pupils dilated." It hurt Casey to echo the conditions over the handset, her knuckles white around the small square. The sirens screamed through the night, cars pulled over, pedestrians bolted out of the way. "Losing a lot of blood. Test shows type B+!" Jesse sped into the enclosure of the emergency entrance, slamming down hard on the breaks. Two paramedics, a suit, and a drenched, shaking figure followed the gurney up the ramp, through the automatic doors, and into the waiting room. An oxygen mask covered Magali’s face, scarlet sheets under her stuck to the mattress, tubes stuck out of her arm and tangled with the metal of the handcuffs. Jesse pushed through the doors, using the end of the gurney as a battering ram, and slid the whole monstrosity into a curtained slot. White uniformed bodies descended on the stretcher, pushing the entourage out of the way with machinery and tables of instruments, bags of blood, tubes and syringes. A security guard pushed them out into the waiting room, the ripping open of black material exposing a crimson torso Casey’s last sight.

The room was stark white, immense, with twenty rows of multi-colored seats, neatly arranged. A wooden booth in a corner enclosed a public phone, the luminescent light cold on everything it touched. Nearly every seat occupied, Casey leaned against the wall, arms akimbo, gently rocking. A sick feeling of familiarity filled her, her mind focused on the bloody torso, the gleaming and stained handcuffs. Jesse raised herself on her toes to look through the glass pane of the double door, leaning from side to side to get a better view of what was happening. Michael, stripped off his jacket, and spoke quietly to the emergency services supervisor on the ramp, beyond Casey’s hearing. A group of eight, blue uniforms strolled into the room, wide smiles gracing their faces, they shook hands with the suited detectives waiting by the phone. Casey glanced sideways at them, catching the sound of a familiar voice.

A hand in his pocket, the other holding a clear ziplock bag, Detective Webster smiled in her direction. A nickle-plated revolver, handle black and thick, rested in the bag, plain for everyone to see. He handed it off to the officers, each man taking a turn at inspecting the weapon, and shaking their heads. She recognized some of them from the bar she had visited with Jesse, the night Black Velvet had played on a jukebox. Jesse put her arms around Casey, pulling her into a fierce embrace. A burning in her depths cried out, and she hid her face in the taller woman’s shoulder. "Would you look at that. When the hell did they find it?" Jesse’s voice whispered in her ear.

Casey lifted her head, reluctantly looked once more at the cheery group of policemen. "You don’t mean…Jesse that wasn’t on her I would know," she said with a twinge of frustration.

A dark head nodded, "she hated revolvers, not enough bullets she always said." The whole statement was framed in the past tense, as if she had already accepted Magali’s death.

Casey pulled away from her grasp, and stomped her way directly towards the laughing group. She stopped a few inches from Webster, her face tilted up to meet his stare. "Where’d you get that?" She pointed at the bag in his hands.

"Off your friend in there Ms. Bridges, where else." He turned away from her, a knowing smirk on his face. It took all of her strength not to hit him, instead she pulled him around to face her again.

"She didn’t have that on her, there are witnesses who will swear to it." She punctuated her words, making each syllable carry meaning.

"It’s your word against mine, little girl." She froze in place, leering at him as he walked away, a blue troop behind him.

One of the officers remained, standing guard, by the entryway to the emergency room, his hand leaning against the revolver on his hip. Jesse and Casey found a seat nearest the door, the officer looming over them. Someone outside screamed in announcement at Eddie’s arrival, his yellow sweatshirt stained with blood, he barged into the waiting room. Restless eyes searched the room, he spotted the women entranced in thought. "Jesse, where is she, how she doin’ ?" They looked up at him, two pairs of eyes betraying confusion. He caught the look, "it’s not mine, its Devi’s. I rushed her down to that animal hospital on York Avenue, they’re taking care of her. It’ll kill Zee if that dog dies." They gave him worried looks, and he gazed back bewildered. "Zee’s gonna be alright…right?" He was begging, it was clear in his voice, the man could not imagine his friend succumbing to anything.

The night wore thin, a trail of doctors and nurses ran through the double doors in intervals, each catching expectant glances from Casey and Jesse. Eddie spent the hours going back and forth from the phone, calling the animal hospital for updates on Devi. The guard at the door changed twice, patients paced the waiting room, anxious to be attended. A tired, masked man walked in, green surgical suit hanging loosely off his frame, strands of blonde hair poked out from under his cap. He scanned the room, whispered to the policeman standing by the doors, and strolled over to where they sat. His square jaw set, he eyed Jesse with light blue eyes, and hesitated before speaking. "Are you a family member of Magali Guerrero?" The look about the man was somber, affecting Casey’s heart rate, the pounding in her temple once dull, turned acute.

Jesse stood on uneasy legs, wiping her palms against her white uniform pants. "Yes, I am."

The doctor lowered his voice, "we should talk in private." Casey heard his words, and the thought of what he could say sent her reeling. Jesse’s hand circled her wrist and pulled her close. "Come on Casey," she said softly. They followed the doctor into a side office, the door snapped shut, and he waved them towards a loveseat against the wall. He was young, it showed in his stance, the way he straddled the rolling chair, and placed himself before them. "She’s out of surgery, and in Intensive Care. Her head injury is minor, just a graze, lucky woman, but she may be concussed." Casey held her breath, knowing the good news was always first, medical school basics. "Now the bullet that went through her chest," he pointed at his own chest, "just barely missed her heart, but it did make a small laceration in one of her major arteries…we’ve patched that up, but she’s lost a lot of blood." He waited for their reaction, a question, some sort of clue as to how to proceed. Unsure and new at the whole ordeal, he thought carefully as to the words he would use, there was no easy way. "There was an exit wound in her back, X-rays show some damage to the lung, it will impede her breathing, but it will heal…if she can muster the energy…and I don’t know if she can. It’ll be one day at a time from here. Any questions?"

There were a thousand questions to ask, with as many answers. Some Casey suspected she did not want to know, her sentiments were echoed in Jesse’s shoulders, the tension in her hands as she squeezed them into fists. She spoke for them both, a crumpled Casey by her side. "Can we see her?" He nodded quietly at her question.

A misty fog hung in the air, remnants of the cleansing rain made dirty puddles on the sidewalk. Eddie stopped abruptly halfway there, "I can’t Jesse, I can’t see her like that, I’m sorry." Silently he walked away in the opposite direction, his head bowed, his feet dragging. Jesse wrapped an arm around Casey’s waist, the woman’s features gone haggard. The Intensive Care Unit was in another building, a block away from the emergency room, in a separate pavilion. It took up half of the eleventh floor, a strategically placed waiting room with large sofas and plain long windows divided the dying from the sick. Small curtained cubicles lined the colossal room, a deathly stillness pervaded the atmosphere, disturbed only by the humms and beeps of machinery. The occasional nurse sped along the aisles, heeding to a call or warning from a life support system.

They found Magali easily, a uniformed officer at guard by the foot of her bed, he sat, holding a newspaper open on his lap. Casey choked back the anger broiling in her stomach, the officer stood at the tap on his shoulder from Jesse. "Mind if we have a minute here?" Jesse’s voice betrayed her annoyance at his presence. The officer left, closing the curtains behind him, leaving a gap where he could easily watch the scenario unfold. Casey remained still by the left side of the bed, staring down at Magali’s bound wrist. An IV tube snaked out of her arm and up above her shoulder, a shining ring of metal clamped on her wrist attached by a long chain to the banister of the bed. Clean white sheets covered her up to the collar, her head rested on its side, a thick white tube protruded from her mouth. Raven hair lay disheveled on a flat pillow, a white, red spotted bandage over her right eye, her skin pallid in the frosty light. Above her head a black screen showed her blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature in lime green lines, letters, and numbers. Hanging adjacent to the screen, a dark burgundy bag hung off a silver pole.

Casey covered her mouth with two hands, a few moments passed before she reached falteringly for the sleeping woman’s face. Don’t you dare leave Zee, don’t you dare. Please fight, God…fight. I just found you…you can’t leave yet. I need more time…more time…with you.

Jesse’s face was stone, motion and expressionless. I knew it would come to this one day. You bitch, I saw how you were with this woman standing next to you now, dying along with you. I saw that old Magali flicker behind those eyes, and now…now you’re going to up and go aren’t you. Typical Zee, real typical.

A burly snort cut the deep stillness, the officer challenging their time. "Let’s go out into the waiting area Jesse", she said with a glare, brushing by the policeman.

People waited around restlessly, lounging on chairs and stretched out on couches, some slept, waiting for the inevitable. An empty pair of armchairs by a window invited them to sit and bide the time with the others. An hour prior to the rising of the sun a small family was ushered into a small pink room off to the side, the door was closed behind them. Casey watched as they departed one by one from the room a few minutes later, tears in their eyes as they embraced and departed. I don’t ever want to see the inside of that room, God please don’t let me see the inside of that room. The seats left empty by the family, were soon filled by two men, dark in attire and arrogant in pose. They kept their eyes fixed on Casey. One sat upright, leaned over his knees, and nodded at her. Leisurely he wandered over to her, his hands in the pockets of his suit. "Ms. Bridges? May I have a minute with you?" Soundlessly she rose to her feet, followed the man into the side room now desolate, casting small glances at Jesse asleep in the chair.

It was a bare room, pink bare walls, a plain desk in a corner, scattered wooden chairs, no windows. He pointed to an empty seat across from him, and picking up his pants legs sat and waited for her. "Ms. Bridges I’d like to ask you a few questions, if that’s alright?"

She peered at him suspiciously, expecting another Detective Webster. He was a tall man, long sandy hair tied back, and square masculine features. "Let me guess you’re Detective…"

"No, no Detective, Ms. Bridges. I’m John Daly with the Department of Justice, judging by your attitude you’ve met Detective Webster." She nodded. "He’s involved in the PD investigation of Officer Ryan’s murder, and that’s what I’m here about. Ms. Bridges…do you know where Magali Guerrero was that night?"

"She was with me."

He leaned closer to her, "during the hours of?"

A lump started in her throat, the possibility that she could provide an alibi raising her spirits. "From nine thirty at night until at least eight in the morning." She replied hopefully.

Daly pressed his back against the chair, his head tilted towards the ceiling. "Are you sure?"

"I fell asleep at seven that morning, I can swear to that at least." She stood and paced the room, brushing her hair back away from her face with a hand.

"Thank you Ms. Bridges, that’s all I needed…I’d keep this conversation to myself if I were you, that’s if you’d like to help your friend. You never saw me, this never happened, understand?"

She nodded, "but what…"

He put an index finger against his lips, pointed it at her, and closed the door behind him as he left. The scent of his after-shave lingered in the air.

Jesse woke to find herself alone, a stream of light illuminating the room, the thrumming of the heating system the only sound. She rolled her eyes thinking about the absurdity of such an expensive system that warmed very little of the atmosphere. It was quiet, most were asleep on mats laying on the floor, or on makeshift cots of lined up chairs. She sauntered out into the hallway, past the vending machines and the nurse’s station. The police officer sitting by Magali’s bed watched a small hand held TV, a wire ran to his ear. He paid her little attention as she pushed the curtain over and peered inside. Casey sat hunched over in a chair by the bed’s side, her head resting on Magali’s untethered hand held by both of her own, asleep.

She cleared her throat, and Casey stirred, looking up at the sleeping woman first before noticing Jesse. "How’s she doing?" She said pointing towards Magali with her chin.

Casey shrugged, rubbed the back of her neck and yawned. "The same. Every once in awhile she mumbles something, I can’t make it out, but she hasn’t moved."

Jesse laid a hand on the blonde’s shoulder, the stress of the night evident in the tautness she felt there. "It might be a long time before she wakes up Casey, you should go home and get some rest."

Casey shook her head, adjusted her seat. "No I won’t rest at home Jesse, my mind will be here. I…just can’t leave her like this. She looks so…vulnerable."

Jesse took a step away from her, "well, I have to go. Do you want me to bring you back anything later?"

"How about something to change into, I’d appreciate it. You know where I live", she asked handing her a key from her pants pocket. "Jesse?"

"Hmm?"

"Do you think she’ll make it?"

One look into those green eyes and she couldn’t bear to tell her what she really thought, she cast her own eyes to the ground, and took a shaky breath. "Maybe…it’s that whole live by the sword, die by the sword thing Casey. I can’t shake it…but, who knows. I hope she knows you’re here, that might make a difference."

Casey looked at the sleeping figure, a restless nature even in oblivion. "I hope so too, I know I haven’t been around very long, but something in her is just so…it’s like she’s a part of me…a part I didn’t know was missing until I found her."

The brunette nodded, put the key in her pocket and padded off, taking one last look over her shoulder at the unlikely couple. The timeless vigilance.

Red bricks, turned brown with age, were outlined in grey and porous. Hundreds of dead sea-sponges stacked into a coral reef wall, rose straight out of the grey cement sidewalk. A jagged fang shaped part of a wall, once a piece of a post war tenement of New York gentry. It stood as a reminder of a time long past, a guardian of the garbage strewn lot behind it. Sand colored dust covered the rubble, cinder blocks, and pieces of discarded dry wall. It surrounded the monstrous pile of tires, car parts, old furniture, and a rusty refrigerator laying coffin like atop it all. At the foot of the broken wall, a pair of dark, defiant eyes stared from a faded photograph, surrounded by the colors of dying flowers and glass encased candles. A brown piece of cardboard to it’s side read "in the memory of", with ink dripping letters that smudged the name below beyond recognition. A troop of small boys ran past, laughing in shrieks, coins in dusty hands, racing towards the ice cream truck rounding the corner, it’s music floating around them.

She watched them as they ran over to her shouting all at once. Rummaging in her pocket for a few bills, she handed them out to the boys, a wild smile on all their faces. A familiar voice raised in anger started her heart pounding, the bag of groceries in her arms dropped carelessly to the ground. The roof, it’s the roof, shit shit. The stairs became a blur, the blood rushing to her head dizzying. It’s Jorge, that’s his voice, shit and Efrain, shit.

The blinding light of the sun struck her across the face as she lunged unseeing over to the walking menace that was so close to her brother. She could smell the stench off his skin. As the ground rushed up to meet her, she pushed the bony body away, lifting her head to look into blue eyes so close to her own they might as well have been a reflection. The face melded, turned and disfigured, a new face took its place. Green eyes, who…No! Female and young, blondish red tresses fell over the tar, green sea eyes glazed over, they stared at nothing. Casey!!!!! Hands grappled at her, dragging her away from the scene, she struggled, tears stinging her eyes.

The fever had set in suddenly after two days of nothing. Casey fretted over the heated skin of the unconscious woman, who mumbled her name. The support system had been replaced with a thin oxygen tube connected to her nostrils, she had been able to breathe on her own although with difficulty. It was yet another complication, another set back, Magali had not so much as hinted to coming back. They were nightmares she could tell, a name whispered punctuated by low moans, crossed brows. They came and went, troubling the sleeper, then leaving her in peace for hours at a time. Casey argued with the police, every new guard objecting to the proximity she kept, but she refused to budge or to leave. Jesse brought her food during breaks, forced her to eat some of it, and then scolded her for abandoning her own health. She was beginning to wear down, to doubt, to fear, that she would know nothing more about her Black Velvet. The image of the lake, moonlight off of water, the sounds of a lonely guitar gripped her.

A burst of cold water hit Magali, before turning lukewarm, cold square tiles under her feet. She heard the voices around her, drowned but clear through the stream from the showerhead. There was a momentary bit of male laughter as her chest hit the wall in front of her, icy against her skin a faucet pressed against her side. Rough thick towels bound each of her wrists, spreading her arms apart, flat against the tiled walls. A hand grabbed a fistful of her hair, brought her head back and violently thrust it forward, the impact shook her senses. She kicked back and heard a curse that was angry and dark. A battering set upon her lower back, numerous fists of different sizes and strengths. She bit down as she felt fingers intrude, her arms pulling against her restraints with enough force to wrench one hand free. Pain seared down her knuckles and jolted up towards her elbow as she connected with something hard. The crack and muffled scream echoed in her head. A kick to her midsection sent her flying back towards the wall, the faucets punching into her ribs, agony piercing through her. She fell, felt herself being turned, saw the ceiling of the shower room double and move. Flesh covered her mouth and she bit down, another scream, then the metallic taste of warm blood on her lips. She floated, away from the scene, and watched at a distance as her own figure changed, a blonde now struggled against her captives. Casey. She ran towards them, an ache in her soul, something smooth and hard hit the back of her legs, and she fell to her knees. Two bodies dragged her down a grey hallway, naked and wet she shivered. Darkness surrounded her, she was flung onto a cot, a jumpsuit thrown at her, the door closed. A small square in the frame let in a spot of white light, she ran to the door, heart in her throat, a feral scream torn from her, it went unanswered. Casey!!!!!!

Magali’s hand jerked, the banister of the bed shook from the sudden force, frightening Casey out of her slumber. God not another one. At least she’s getting stronger. The current guard on duty shook his head, he’d been witness to a series of out bursts from the prisoner, and had begun to wonder whether if it was a fašade. Jesse came strolling in, a brown paper bag in her hand. "She’s having another nightmare?"

Casey nodded. "Yeah."

"Well, you better come out to the waiting room and eat this, or I’ll be your…worst nightmare."

The room was surprisingly empty, and they found a spot to sit with at a short table easily. Jesse opened the bag and pulled out two sandwiches, she unwrapped one and pushed it into Casey’s hand. "So Casey, do you need a ride tonight?" She said through mouthfuls.

She picked at a piece of lettuce sticking out from in between the slices of bread, and chewed on it tentatively "A ride for what?"

The darker woman choked, swallowing the contents hastily. "You’ve been here too long Casey. School remember…work, ring a bell? You go back tomorrow…you weren’t planning on staying here, were you?"

Casey opened a can of a soda she retrieved from the brown bag, turned her head to face the window, and took a sip. "I hadn’t thought about leaving, not until she at least wakes…just a little…"

"Look Casey, you need to do something other than sit around here and wait, for my very stubborn cousin, to decide she wants to come back from the dead." She stopped herself too late, observing the inkling of a grimace pass through the blonde’s features.

"I’ll go to class Jesse…tomorrow, and I’ll see you at work tomorrow." But I’ll be here every chance I get.

Jesse glanced at her wrist watch, "oh, have to go. Do you want that ride?" Sorry Casey, I’m so sorry. If I don’t get you out of here…you won’t go on.

The sky rumbled, a few early drops fell across her palms, the wind whipped across her face, sending a few black tendrils flying. Across the street a shadow moved, a flash lit the man’s features, hawk like in the white light. Webster. Devi growled, and lunged at the man walking up at her side, he was just a few feet away, gun drawn. "Devi no!" A speck of light, the bullet’s tracer in the dark, pierced through the air bound dog, and slammed into her chest. Pain, it all came down to the pain. The freezing rain poured over her, as another bolt hit, this time her temple. Her lungs released their air on impact with the ground. Magali felt her breathing strain, water in her eyes, filling her throat, and the snap of a handcuff cold against her skin. Numbness settled, a stormy sky overhead, and she glimpsed a pair of emerald eyes. They’re blue, they’re suppose to be blue. Her head was lifted up to a lap, words left her lips, green eyes, then nothing. Casey…have to get back to Casey.

Classes were boring, the cover of her textbook held more interest to her than what was being said. She kept wanting to press the eleventh floor button in the elevator, to step into a small cubicle, and touch the raven hair splayed on a stark white pillow. The train made her nauseous, the heating system in the car she rode had broken, and she could see her breath in the air. Two hours before work, I can just stop by for a little while, right? Casey turned the corner and walked past the emergency entrance. The pavilion stretched upwards, twenty stories high, its colonnade entrance enclosed by a two story glass window. Through it could be seen the lobby and the second floor cafeteria. Four news vans were parked outside, a group of journalists and cameras surrounded a conservative looking man, who stood on the steps attempting to quiet the crowd. "Ladies, gentlemen, if I could get a word in…" Casey recognized one of the accompanying men near the speaker. He wore dark shades, but his sandy hair gave him away. She meandered over to the swarm, curious as to what was happening. "This shooting was not, I repeat, was not connected to the Ryan case. It was an unfortunate situation…the victim’s dog attacked a police officer and he shot it down. She was mistakenly hit, that’s all." A whirlwind of questions rose, and Casey furtively walked away. John Daly, standing in the shadows, followed her with his sight.

Casey paced by the elevators, biting on one of her fingernails. The doors slid soundlessly open, a dark suited man, salt and pepper hair she recognized immediately, stopped in front of her. A tall dark skinned man stood behind him, his arms crossed over his broad chest, dark shades over his eyes. Guillermo grabbed her arm and pulled her to the side, guiding her through a pair of glass doors leading to an atrium. "I hear you have been sitting by her bedside, eh?" There was no one around save for them, but still the man whispered, while he walked deeper into the green space. The taller, dark man stayed by the doors, inspecting the glass. She could only nod her head in agreement, feeling through the grip at her arm the menacing presence the man naturally exuded. "I’m glad I bumped into you…Casey," he was guessing at the name, and smiled slightly at the nod from the small woman indicating he had been right. A simple wooden bench at the atriums center his intended goal, he sat on it’s smooth surface, and patted the empty space next to him. Casey took the gesture as an invitation, although he could have simply been brushing off a leaf. He spoke as if speaking to the air, never really putting his eyes on her.

"I appreciate your attention in this little dilemma, and I owe you a debt of gratitude. It’s not…safe for me to be here. You understand?"

"Why are you here then," she asked folding her arms over her chest.

"Aah, this stupid heart of mine," he replied pointing at his chest. "Doctor insists I see him once a month, if I don’t he doesn’t stop calling until I come in…Foolish, when it’s your time, it’s your time." Guillermo fixed Casey with a cold stare, searching her eyes for a reaction. "This may be Magali’s time."

Casey looked away from him, focused on the fauna surrounding them and the gentle mist lingering around leafy stems.

"But," he continued, "if it isn’t. Don’t think you will change her. Love her as she is, or don’t love her at all." Oh but I do, I love the Zee no one sees but me.

"I won’t forget…you ever need anything just ask." Guillermo stood up, straightened his tie, and adjusted his jacket. "I’m glad she won’t be alone." Without so much as a farewell he left, leaving her in the solitude of the enclosed garden.

Overworked nurses gave her mysterious glances as she walked past them through the curtained aisles. They covered their faces when they saw her looking with any handy chart or newspaper. A quiet murmur reached her as she stepped in front of Magali’s cubicle, it chilled her veins when she recognized what was being uttered. Reluctantly she pulled back the curtain, her suspicions confirmed. A short, robust figure in a black robe stood over the unconscious Magali, a rosary dangling from his hand. A square piece of linen had been lain on her chest, a red cross embroidered at its center. The priest wore a white stole around his shoulders, symbols of peace and salvation etched across it. He whispered a small prayer, and touched the cross he held to Magali’s lips. A small bottle in one hand tipped, oil shone on his fingers, and he made a cross on her forehead with it, touched it to her lips, then crossed himself. The bottle disappeared under his robe, then he picked up a small bible resting next to Magali. Deftly he opened the small brown book and read. "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil…" Casey bowed her head, and offered up a silent prayer of her own. When the Psalm was finished, the priest put away his tools in a folding briefcase, touched Casey on the shoulder and quietly walked away.

Magali had not moved since she had last seen her, but the guard was gone, and only an inquisitive nurse poked her head through the curtain. Some color had returned to the dark woman’s lips, her breathing less ragged than the previous day. Casey checked the once manacled wrist, a red abrasion marked either side. She touched the wounded woman’s skin, it was feverish but not scalding as it had been. Magali released a soft moan, her brows crossed, her hand made a fist. They were signs she was familiar with after many nights of helplessly watching the woman battle unseen demons. Casey pried open the clenched fingers, and placed her hand on the warm palm, immediately her hand was closed upon. She stroked the errant strands of hair on the pillow, gently creeping closer to stroke the dark head. "Shhhh…shhh." What’s going on in there?

A smoky diner off the interstate, where truckers and wayfarers frequented, cast a neon glow over the two-door Chevrolet. Guillermo sat behind the wheel, a tropical print shirt luminescent in the light. The layered fiery ember of his cigar orange in the dark, he grinned at the relaxed posture of his daughter leaning on the hood. She smoked a thin, delicate cigar, imported from Cuba illegally, one foot rested on the bumper.

A red Camaro pulled in, two young men in jeans and T-shirts sat in the front, singing the newest Guns and Roses song at the top of their lungs. They turned off the engine, cut the lights, and stepped out into the darkness of the lot behind the diner. The thinner of the two carried a briefcase in one hand, the other nervously tucked his hands into his pockets. Frail looking, but confident he marched towards Magali. The crook in the bridge of his nose dismissing his semblance of innocence.

Exhaling a cloud of musky smoke, Magali crushed the cigar with the heel of her boot. Her expression betrayed no emotion as she snatched the briefcase away from the young man, who was momentarily surprised at the speed of the motion.

"Hey! Money first", he exclaimed attempting to grab the brief back.

His head snapped back, and he nearly lost his balance, at the blow from an elbow hitting his mouth. His lips bled, a trickle of crimson ran down his chin.

"You make me wait, I make you bleed," she growled on her way back to the Chevy. In one smooth action she threw the brief into the backseat, grabbed a small duffle from the floor and glanced at Guillermo.

"Magali…is that the best you can do? Where’s that infamous anger of yours, eh," he asked teasingly, knowing he was instigating a darker reaction.

She scowled, opened the glove compartment and retrieved a blue black gun hidden under a rumpled, folded map.

The boys stepped back at her approach, the lope in her stride foreshadowing an unhappy close to the deal. Faster than either of them could see, she raised the weapon, aimed at the tag-a-long and fired. He let out a scream as he fell to the ground, holding on to his shattered knee.

"Just a little reminder asshole…never be late again." With that she tossed the bag at the smaller man and strode away.

"Now that’s my girl," he said pleased.

Slowly the Chevy pulled away, Magali rested her chin on her fist, watched the thinner man stoop to pick up his partner. She concentrated on the fallen man’s features, long reddish hair, green eyes, a face stretched in agony. Casey, God no! She wrestled to open the door of the moving car, unseen hands held her back, the feel of cold tile against her skin. Laughter echoed off the chilled walls, she found herself naked and shivering. Her wrists bound by rough cloth, a stream of water hit her face, blinding and shifting the world around her. The restraint broke and she grabbed for.....

 

The pressure on Casey’s hand increased, close to crushing, but too weak to go any further. Magali kicked at the covers. A sudden force pulled her downwards, shook her with its ferocity, a powerful hand clutched at the front of the sweater she wore, a low growl stopped her breath. Had Casey been sitting, she would have hit her head on the side of the bed. Distressed blue eyes opened inches from her own, feral and untamed.

"Zee…Zee it’s me baby," her voice cracked. "It’s okay, I have you. No one is going to hurt you Zee. It’s me Casey…remember me?" God let her remember. A wild look of bewilderment settled into the blue eyes, then they softened as Casey’s words took on shape and meaning. The grasp holding her lightened, careful fingers roamed upwards, caressing her neck tenderly. A small shy smile formed on weary lips, the simple gesture rendering Casey speechless.

"Ma…ga…li, not…Zee…not…to you." The voice was scratchy from lack of use, the words barely audible.

The curtains fluttered, a nurse ran down the aisle screaming, "she’s up, she’s up!" Magali’s smile widened, "careful Casey, here come…the vultures. They may knock you down." Then her expression turned suddenly serious, "…how long?" Casey could hardly think, much less make any sense. The wonder of the open blue eyes was like a forgotten dream. "Five days baby, five very long days." Hot tears filled her eyes, they trickled down her cheeks and onto the hand gently touching her neck.

"Hey…why are you crying huh? Someone…fuckin’ with you," she asked catching a tear off the blondes face with her thumb. The raspy words brought out a small laughter from the Casey, the protective streak in Magali’s voice clear, however exhausted it was.

"You are too much Magali Guerrerro…too much."

Then the white uniforms descended, pushing Casey out of the small enclosure, measuring blood pressure, looking in eyes with a small penlight. A tan skinned nurse glared at Casey, "you can go wait outside, we’ll come and get you in a bit," she said placing a gentle hand on her shoulder and escorting her out. The wait turned into an hour and she was expected at the emergency room, with heavy steps Casey made her way to the elevators, and through the huge glass doors of the pavilion entrance. She spotted Jesse leaning against their rig, sipping on what looked like her first cup of coffee. Putting some energy into her step, she let out a high squeal and launched herself into a hug at the brunette.

"Hey whoa," Jesse exclaimed, trying desperately to save her coffee. "What’s with the sudden change of mood?"

"She’s awake Jesse, she opened her eyes, and she spoke to me and…"

Jesse held the woman at arms length, and inspected the jubilant woman’s eyes for signs of head trauma. "You’re not kidding are you?" Casey shook her head, a brilliant smile on her face. "No!" Jesse jumped a few times into the air, pulling a giddy Casey along with her.

"Shit, I didn’t think she would make it this time, I really didn’t, I thought this would be it. Damn that woman."

Casey stopped laughing, a frown suddenly prominent, pronounced with an expression of confusion. "This time?"

Oh oh Jesse, you just had to stick your foot in your mouth. Luckily the radio went off, saving her from an explanation for the time being. "Oh shit, Casey. Car accident. You better change in the back."

The street was clogged with fire-trucks, police cars, and emergency vehicles. People crowded on the street, watched from fire-escapes attached to the sides of five story tenements, it was a free show. A three car accident, the last one in flames, had crushed a center vehicle into the first. Firemen rushed in with power tools, and what they dubbed the "jaws of life" to pry open the metal tomb. There were children trapped inside, and Casey could just make out one crying for their mother. The whole scene was horrific. At least two had died, and another four were trapped, three others were being administered to. Casey and Jesse had been the last to arrive, and because of it they had to wait for the firemen to do their job. Getting to the waiting victims in the collapsed frame was tedious and careful work. Hours would pass before the job was done, and then a rush of activity would follow. It was after midnight when Casey finally got a break.

Continued in Part 5

 


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